Monday, April 10, 2006

Job Hunting for Disabled Employees

Disabilities_act_copy3It is sad to say that after 15 years of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which has sought to undermine the pernicious myth that disabled individuals are incapable of performing many jobs in the American workplace, that many employers remain unpersuaded.

Ellen Simon reports for the Associate Press today that many employers still believe that either disabled workers are not as capable as performing the same jobs as their non-disabled colleagues or that the hiring of such individuals will be too expensive for them from an health insurance standpoint.

From the article:

The Americans with Disabilities Act, passed in 1990, prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, yet the employment rate for those with disabilities has been nearly flat for almost 20 years.

Only 34 percent of working-age people with disabilities had full-time or part-time jobs in 1986. In 2004, the figure was 35 percent, according to surveys done by the National Organization on Disability in conjunction with the Harris Survey. People without disabilities have an employment rate of 78 percent.

People with disabilities are nearly three times more likely to live in poverty than people without disabilities; 26 percent of people with disabilities had a 2004 annual household income below $15,000, versus 9 percent of those without disabilities, the survey found.

Depressing indeed. What's to be done? Although more aggressive prosecution of disability discrimination claims by the EEOC may be part of the final equation, the fact remains that charges of discrimination have to be filed in the first place and there has to be sufficient circumstantial and direct evidence of such bias to back up such claims.

Perhaps more worthwhile would be a government-led education campaign, through PSAs and otherwise, which would help overcome the apparent bias that many employers have in regard to hiring the disabled.

Other insights and suggestions would be appreciated on this one. Clearly, there is much work that still needs to be done in this area.


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As a Canadian labour law prof (as of July) and disability rights activist who has studied in the States, all I can say this is a very tough nut to crack. I am skeptical of the health insurance explanation because Canada has universal health insurance yet a massive percentage of people with disabilities remain outside the labour market. Anyone ever consider the public transit angle? To the extent some people with disabilities cannot drive and it seems to me outside meccas like Cambridge MA driving a car is essential to have a job, this is a major barrier. Canada unfortunately still has basic wheelchair access issues with which to contend. American public transit may be accessible but is limited. Also you might want to read (my former mentor) Samuel Bagenstos' extensive scholarship.

Posted by: Ravi Malhotra | Apr 11, 2006 7:00:18 PM

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